BUSINESS

Digital skills for a digital world

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It’s no secret that digital skills are becoming an increasingly important part of the skillset required to secure a job.

Recent analysis reveals that 75% of roles at all levels require essential digital skills – such as being able to use basic productivity tools, like being able to use spreadsheets and databases, online meeting tools and any basic software required for the specific job.

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Yet 21% of the UK population are without these basic digital skills. It’d be easy to assume the majority of those are older people who haven’t grown up with technology and the internet, and perhaps have little motivation to learn new digital skills. To a certain extent that’s true, and yet there remains around 300,000 people under the age of 24 who lack basic digital skills and of those, the vast majority are already facing multiple disadvantages.

A growing digital economy

When you move beyond the basics, and into tech-enabled jobs and more high-end tech roles, the digital divide inevitably becomes even more pronounced. Jobs in the tech sector have grown 36% since the lockdown peak and the upward trend looks set to continue. Tech is becoming more and more important to the UK economy. In their latest report, Tech Nation says that the contribution of tech to the UK economy has grown on average by 7% per year since 2016.

Not only does a lack of digital skills restrict job opportunities, but it also has an impact on earnings whilst in a job. Roles requiring digital skills carry a significant salary advantage. Overall, roles requiring digital skills pay 29% more than those that do not (£37,000 p.a. vs £28,700 p.a.). That differential increases at higher levels. The salary differential for digital skills ranges from £2,700 for low-skill jobs (£24,000 vs £21,300) to £11,300 for high-skill jobs (£45,300 vs £34,000).

Widening disadvantage

Why does this matter? Put simply, being without digital skills widens disadvantage. It makes it even harder for those already facing barriers to work to find employment – and crucially to find sustainable employment. And it means that significant numbers of people are being excluded from a job market increasingly dominated by tech-enabled roles.

At Catch22, we work with hundreds of people a year – many of them young people – who are struggling to find work. We provide practical support such as CV writing, preparing for interviews and building confidence in order to help our service users find jobs that match their aspirations.  Boosting digital skills is key; we assess the training needs of participants across our programmes and ensure they have access to the required courses and packages so they are appropriately digitally skilled.

Beyond the basics

We also run two programmes specifically designed to support young people into tech-enabled apprenticeships and jobs. Our Digital Edge (funded by Microsoft) and Digital Leap (funded by Salesforce) programmes, work with individuals facing barriers to work – whether that’s due to gender, health status, or the fact they’re care leavers or single parents. They focus on building digital skills to equip participants to land entry level IT and other digital vacancies – and offering digital career advice and networking opportunities.

Both programmes also work closely with employers, to identify what support they may need in diversifying their workforce and hiring people who have the skillset. With two thirds of businesses in the UK having unfilled digital skills vacancies, and 95% of businesses expecting their digital skills needs to grow, close links between business and digital skills programmes are vital.

These programmes are both popular and effective, not least because they are bridging the gap between essential digital skills and roles in the tech industry.

Honing digital skills

Another of our flagship programmes – The Social Switch Project – provides training to young Londoners who have an interest in digital careers and already have good basic skillsets. It hones their skills through digital skills training and promotes online creativity, equipping them to become social media managers (or equivalent roles). Programmes like this are vital to ensure young people’s aptitude for all things digital is channelled into helping them into sustainable careers.

We’re acutely aware that in order to be active and progress in a digital economy, there’s a requirement to have more than just basic level digital skills.

Digital skills in your business

Many businesses are investing heavily in digital skills training for their employees, and many more are recruiting for digitally-focussed roles. From our experience working with candidates and businesses, two key points stand out.

Firstly, we work with people who have struggled to get good grades at school. They may not have been to college or have many formal qualifications. Often this is due to circumstances far beyond their control. However, their aptitude, enthusiasm and commitment is in many cases unrivalled. Especially when it comes to digital roles, we would urge businesses to look beyond what’s on a CV and be open to candidates who may not have come down a traditional route.

Secondly, embracing digital technology, whatever industry you’re in, is becoming unavoidable. And finding the right technology, and the right people to use it most effectively, is vital to success. If you’re looking to recruit, there are many excellent pre-employability programmes focussing on digital skills and training young people to harness their tech-savviness and forge successful careers.


Victoria Head

Victoria is the Director of Employability, Skills and NCS at Catch22

Business Matters Magazine

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